|From the GM: The Ends and the Means (Continued)|
by Sabine Rhyne
To recap, we are progressing on increasing our sales of local, organic, and fair trade products as part of our overall sales volume. We noted that our pricing needed much closer scrutiny to keep up with the competitive pressures that we are feeling in the region; we are already making many of those changes, as you have no doubt noticed. Our customer count and basket size have continued to increase, an extremely good sign, and growth in our
Food for All program participants indicate that this program is needed and well-received. We continue to progress on reducing our utility costs, though we recognized that we need to focus more on reducing our waste stream, and we are already underway on organizing this effort.
On to more of the highlights. We have a new End as of last year, which describes, “A workplace community where cooperative values are modeled.” This presents us with a challenge to find data that best describe a positive result of this goal. We are still working on this, but for now, we looked at the number of staff who became new shareholders (22) and numbers who engaged in our store huddles and other organizational structures that deepened staff’s understanding of our business and of cooperatives in general. We held many customer-service trainings for all staff, and 139 of our 160 staff members were able to attend and participate. We are going to have better engagement this year with our orientation passport program that includes a full segment on cooperatives (“Co-ops 101”), our finances, and much more about the entire business.
The Co-op’s fifth End states that we will work towards a sustainable local economy. The first way to honor and contribute to this result is by being a fiscally sound business. Although we continue to progress in the right direction, with a $220,000 bottom-line improvement this past year, we are still well below break-even, largely due to the impact of debt service and other expenses. We plan to be at a positive bottom line by the end of this fiscal year, if sales continue to stay strong, and expenses come down. The other part of being part of a sustainable local economy is in how we do business. The Brattleboro Food Co-op returns 36-37% of its budget to the local community. This includes an average of 16% of sales of local products ($3.1 million), wages of about $4 million, and town taxes of $137,000. Furthermore, the BFC contributed $5,635 in in-kind donations and gift cards to hundreds of local organizations, $7,740 in contributions and sponsorships (Bag-a-Bean program, NOFA Share the Harvest program, Strolling of the Heifers, etc.), and $2,840 in in-kind donations from Dottie’s to Our Place in Bellows Falls. (Please do your part in helping us achieve this goal by continuing to shop the Co-op regularly, and by bringing your friends and neighbors in to show them around.)
We provide relevant information about food and related products, the environment, and the Cooperative Values and Principles. We offer many opportunities to engage with this information, both throughout the store and in specific workshops, classes, and discussion in the Co-op’s Community Room. We mail this newsletter to 3,700 families, we make it available online through our electronic monthly news to 1,700 addresses, and post all our information on our website. We send calendar information to all the media outlets every month, and flyer the downtown area. Our BFC Board of Directors staffs a table in the store every month to solicit feedback and inform customers, we engage many people at the Shareholder Services desk, and a group of interested shareholders faithfully gather every month for more in-depth discussions at the Shareholder Forum. Over 3,000 people have been part of classes, trainings, and cooking experiences in the Co-op Cooking Classroom and in area schools. We have collaborated with 30 area organizations on programs, from Groundworks Collaborative to Brattleboro Museum and Art Center, from Dedicated Dads to Families First. School groups from nine schools and many different grades have worked with our Education and Outreach staff.
And finally, we provide reasonable access to participation in our cooperative. There are so many ways to contribute.
Working! An average of 636 shareholders volunteered their time in any given month last year, including assistance in the store, but also reading at Kids Playce, presenting the Harvest of the Month in the schools, gardening around the parking lot, assisting with demos at the Drop In Center/Groundworks Collaborative, and assisting with classes in the Cooking Classroom.
Discussing! Feedback is graciously received through all staff members, at Shareholder Services, on feedback forms that are read weekly, at Board Tabling events, and at the Shareholder Forum. I am always happy to hear what you have to say, and answer any questions that you have that I can. This is one of the most important “co-op differences” we can offer, and we take it seriously.
Speaking of participation, thanks to all of you who came to beautiful Scott Farm for our annual meeting on November 8! It was a good and productive day, where we got lots of ideas and input about affordability, the Co-op’s potential role in a sustainable economy, and reaching some of the folks who currently don’t shop at the Co-op. As always, it also helps to tell us where we could do a better job of telling our story, as inevitably people are surprised to learn what we are doing already! Thanks to all who joined us. We very much appreciate your being an active part of our cooperative.